N.L. weighing options for repairing 5th water bomber to fight Labrador wildfires

Provincial forest fire duty officer Bryan Oke believes the next few days will be busy as they monitor the ongoing fires in Labrador.
Provincial forest fire duty officer Bryan Oke says the province has the resources to contain fires burning in Labrador. (Submitted by Tryone Ball)

As crews fighting seven active wildfires in Labrador get some help from rainfall, Premier Andrew Furey says Newfoundland and Labrador has all the resources it needs to battle the blazes.

With four water bombers in Labrador, Furey told reporters in Gander on Tuesday, the province has adequate resources for this year's fire season but there's room to grow.

"As climate change kicks in and as weather patterns change, there's always the ability to build out a stronger, more robust system. And we're committed to doing that," he said.

According to Newfoundland and Labrador's wildfire dashboard, four of the seven active wildfires are listed as being out of control and three under control.

Provincial forest fire duty officer Bryan Oke said there are four water bombers, five helicopters and 25 crews in Labrador, with additional resources on the way.

"We've been able to maintain those boundaries and cool temps, and mild rain throughout the night has provided an opportunity for some good suppression activity," said Oke.

Furey told reporters he spoke with crews on the ground in Labrador on Monday and commended them for their work.

"I think we can develop a centre of excellence in firefighting services here in Gander … to provide support not just to Newfoundland and Labrador, but to eastern Canada."

The province's plans includes getting its fifth water bomber, which has been out of service since 2018, back in the air.

Premier Andrew Furey believes Newfoundland and Labrador is adequately resourced for this year's forest fire season, but wants to see a fifth water bomber back in service.
Premier Andrew Furey says Newfoundland and Labrador is adequately resourced for this year's forest fire season but he wants to see its fifth water bomber back in service. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

Transportation and Infrastructure Minister John Abbott said repairing the plane will cost less than buying a new one, but discussions are still being held about next steps.

"We've done a lot of work on trying to get that ready, but what we have determined is that we can look at two options: either send it off island to get it repaired — it's going to be very costly. And we're looking at the option of here, getting it repaired on the island," Abbott said.

"We're hoping in the next month or so to be able to determine which route we'll go."

Abbott said repairs could take up to a year.

Exploits MHA Pleaman Forsey said Tuesday the work should have been done a long time ago.

"We needed that in play now, not wondering if we're going to do that or not," he told Radio-Canada.

"Here on the island, if a forest fire had started here, you know, to play those water bombers back and forth, you know, as need be, we're depending on luck … that they don't get out of control."

A provincial water bomber douses a fire near Cappahayden.
Repairs to the province's fifth water bomber could take a year, says the government. (Submitted by Bruce Mactavish)

The risk of fire in Newfoundland ranges from low in some areas to very high in other parts. There are currently no fires on the island, but high temperatures are expected in the next few days.

Oke said he's in constant communication with his federal counterparts but so far, provincial resources have been enough to battle the fires.

"As fire weather indexes change across the province here, we may be deploying additional resources," he said.

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